Disclaimer: I make no claim on the characters of others, as this is just a tribute I'm writing for personal entertainment. What a long, strange trip it's been.


Colonel Jeannette Devereaux was grateful that very few of her fellow pilots standing on Concordia's hull were in positions where they could see her face beyond her helmet. She was not ashamed of her tears, but they did not give the professional image she wished to display. The professionalism she needed to cling to, so she did not break down completely. Admiral Tolwyn had spent most of the battle staring into the rift, and he'd been flatly useless since. She was carrying most of his load.

She looked down the hull. All the pilots not at 2-minutes-readiness or in sickbay were there, in their suits, forming lines down each side of the marked-off launch strip. At the end of those lines, pilots also in suits from the other carriers involved, there as a gesture of respect. Twenty marines, laser rifles shouldered against their hardsuits.

And in the center of it all, five empty coffins.

She found her voice, finally. "We are gathered here to bid farewell to our fallen comrades. Flight Officer Janice Dane, Lieutenant Yoshiro Hibiki, Captain Dirk Wright, Captain Ivan Konavalov, and Colonel Ralgha nar Hhallas. They were our friends, our companions, our wingmen. They were not the first pilots of the Confederation to die in this war or its strange ventures, nor, sadly, will they be the last. Death is a fear we must each face, every day we are aboard this ship. But we cannot forget why we are here, or what we are fighting for. Many pilots have given their lives in our cause, and we must continue the fight in their memory. Let us say a farewell to our companions, and pray for the day that space shall give up her dead." She paused for a moment, then gave an exaggerated nod to the marines.

Twenty laser rifles snapped to port arms, extended, fired. Again. And again. The gathered pilots saluted as five empty coffins fired small maneuvering jets, lifting off of the ship's hull. In perfect formation, they launched toward the gas giant over which their respective pilots had fought their last battles.

Behind the obscuring face shield of her helmet, Jeannette Devereaux cried.

Their ways and technologies are strange, but they are all very, very human, thought Lee Adama as he walked through the 'magcon' field at the mouth of Concordia's flight deck. They'd been lucky – lost a lot more planes than pilots. From what he'd gathered, that was true of most everyone involved.

Glancing around, he could see others removing their helmets. He swallowed and braced himself, then cracked his helmet seal. There was no deadly rush of vacuum. He removed his helmet, tucked it under one arm. A small sigh of relief; it was one thing to be told about some miracle tech, another to feel it's truth. He exchanged nods with a few of the other pilots as they walked by.

Frak but this ship was impressive. Everything he'd ever learned about ship design told him that Galactica should be able to crush it, but it's tech made it vastly more dangerous. Where Galactica had been all but crippled by a single, offhand volley from a Star Destroyer, Concordia had gone head-to-head with two of them, destroying one outright and driving the other from the field, while her fighters and bombers took out another, smaller one.

And it was telling, he thought, that for all they'd said that the Colonials were welcome and part of their Republic now, the Bradesons hadn't given them much beyond raw materials for repair. Enterprise, allied with a force at war with their patrons, had been much greater help. The Bucket was surely finished, now, keel cracked and half her power systems utterly fried. They'd need something else, and what they had simply could not compete.

If he could do a little horse trading before going home, it might just stand them in good stead in the long run.

There she was now; filing in behind the Marines, along with one or two he pegged as squadron commanders. Wing Commander Devereaux looked haggard as she removed her helmet. Lee understood the feeling well. One of the squadron commanders, a sandy haired man, noticed him first, and nudged her. "Ah. Commander Adama."

"Colonel. My condolences for your losses, and my thanks for what your people did. We'd never have gotten away with that fight without you."

Devereaux managed a thin smile. "We just held the door, Commander. You were the ones doing the hard part."

"Even so." He paused. "This might not be the best time, but... we might be able to help each other with something. I've heard that you don't have point to point jump drives, that yours can only go between fixed points. Our jump drives are point to point."

Devereaux's expression was thoughtful, as was the sandy-haired squadron commander. The other squadron leader glanced between them and said, "I don't think you'll need me for this. Why don't I go and start ripping a strip off of Maniac down in sickbay while you get this sorted?"

"Save some for us," said the sandy-haired man.

"No problem, Blair."

Lee couldn't help himself. "Maniac?"

Blair and Devereaux both grimaced. "A perpetual thorn in our sides," she said, "He ditched out on his wingman in the battle to go showboating, and we just put her to rest." Muttering, "Je suis dégoûté de celui hybride."

Lee felt his expression harden. "I see. I won't keep you long."

The two exchanged glances. Devereaux said, "Blair, you have more experience with... delicate operations than I do, no?"

He nodded. "I can get this sorted, if you'd like."

"Do that." She gave Lee a nod, and headed for her office.

"Delicate operations?" asked Lee, trying not to smile.

"Something like that. Let's walk some, and talk."

They started down the flight line, heading towards the repair bay. "So. If I'm following you, you want to do a little horse trading. One of your jump-capable ships for... what?"

"Something with shields, and energy weapons. I think our technical people can reverse engineer that. And looking at your ship, I'm sure you can figure out ours."

Blair nodded slowly, looking thoughtful. "You flew over in one of your bombers, didn't you?"

"Yep. Colonial Raptor. Jump capable, full tank of tilium fuel, and by sheer co-incidence, a full set of technical and maintenance manuals in back."

Another slow nod. "Good co-incidence." He paused, glanced into one of the maintenance alcoves where a team was welding up a big, delta-winged fighter with what looked like a horizontal stablilizer at the nose. Turned back to Lee, looked him in the eye.

Lee met that gaze, and after a long, searching moment, Blair nodded. "I think we can sort something out. Trade you a slightly bent Rapier for that Raptor?"

Lee extended a hand. "Deal."

Captain's Log, suplemental. Repairs continue apace on the damage Enterprise suffered during our battle with the Voidspawn. Thanks to the actions of our coalition fleet, the rift has closed, and our experts believe – and the specialists of both the Dimensional Republic of Bradeson and the Time Space Administration Bureau – that the 'mosaic' of universes that can be seen and traveled to from this location will resolve itself in the next forty-eight hours. Many of the ships of our fleet have already set out, intent on returning to tasks and conflicts of their own. They all fought well, and I have apended our sensor data to these reports.

The city of Seyruun on the inhabited world of this system was indeed besieged by creatures that fit the definition of 'demons.' Though Enterprise herself did not contribute personnel to the defense of this city, in keeping with the Prime Directive, our Klingon allies did. Between that, and our efforts in the general defense of the system against the Voidspawn, myself and my senior staff have been invited to a victory celebration being held by Seyruun's crown prince. For diplomatic reasons, I feel it would be impolitic to refuse.

Ranma looked bemused as yet another stranger took a pen to the cast on his arm and made his mark.

He wasn't entirely sure how this had gotten started, but it seemed that a lot of people had seen him take a crack at Xellos during the big fight, and had been impressed. Once they'd chased the rest of the Mazoku out of town – and they hadn't been too eager to fight after seeing their boss get offed – he'd more or less collapsed, and had woken up in Claudia's medical bay. The doc had given him seven kinds of hell for getting hurt so badly, and for keeping fighting after being hurt, in a way that Ranma had come to associate with doctors who really cared about their patients. He'd even had a glare for Chrono when the Admiral had popped in and told him that, now that they knew what he could do, they'd probably get him training people. He'd replied that if they wanted him to train their people, to get in line at the dojo.

Ryoga had been in for a few moments, glad he was awake and healing, and jealous that he'd found yet more glory. But for the most part, he seemed genuinely glad that Ranma was more or less okay, "If only because they'd probably make me tell Akane and the girls. And I don't think I'd survive that." They were still keeping him under wraps... but not in a cell, any more. And Ranma'd caught him talking earnestly with several people, trying to learn what he could about making things up to a woman he'd offended. Ranma wished him the best of luck with Akari.

The ship's doc had set his arm – broken in three places by Xellos – and put it in a heavy cast "not so much because the cast is needed, but to be large, and awkward, and remind you that you need to let that arm rest while it heals." It was sore, despite enough painkillers that Ranma knew he'd be having balance issues once he got tired. They might well be necessary: Xellos had been in a colossally bad mood, and he'd been casting to inflict pain over damage. Some of the cuts he'd gotten were going to scar despite magic healing.

The cast-signing hadn't been his idea. Another guy hurt in the ground fight had gotten it started, Daniel Jackson from SG-1, with his own broken arm. They'd started signing his cast, then some people decided to sign Ranma's as well. He had to admit though, it was kinda interesting. His translator bauble let him read the various signatures, even though most of them were in totally unfamiliar scripts. It would make for an interesting souvenir. The thought of the translator brought a smile. He had, it seemed, done some damage to it with his ki-based shenanigans. One of the techs had explained at great length how what he'd done to brute-force magic out of the device was a very bad thing and something he should never ever do. But since we know that won't stop you, and aren't too proud to admit when someone shows us new ways to do things, we've modified it so that using it that way won't fry the device in the future.

Ranma blinked, realizing how much his thoughts were wandering. Oh yeah. Gooood painkillers.

Absently, Ranma chewed on some sweetbread as he looked around the great hall. Several of the mages were talking shop – when last he'd been near, Lina and Nanoha had been chatting about Raising Heart – and comparing spells. Lots of high up officers were mingling with nobles. A band playing something that Ranma's brain wanted to classify as classical music, but it probably, technically, wasn't, at least not here. It might be the local equivalent to J-pop, as far as he knew. No, too many old people listening to it. Couldn't be J-pop.

Speaking of old people; Prince Phil was standing near one of the drinks tables, gesturing for attention. The guy didn't look much like Ranma's idea of a typical prince, but he had presence. Chrono, Picard, Hoss, and the elder Adama were all near him, along with a couple others: the Klingon, Martok, and a matronly woman whose name he hadn't caught were all in the little knot of people near him, the rest of that group being locals. Tolwyn hadn't showed for the party, though a couple of his officers had. Something about that niggled at Ranma's mind, but he couldn't make his thoughts stay in one direction long enough to nail down what.

Prince Phil seemed to think he had enough of people's attention. "My friends; my people! My honored guests from beyond the stars! To victory, and to homecomings!" There was a good cheer at this, and Ranma took a sip at his own drink. Lots of people seemed really happy about this Princess Gracia coming back. She'd been gone for a long time, he gathered, since shortly after the assassination of her mother. Not a bad reason to run, all things considered. Her shot at Xellos had been impressive, even if it hadn't worked. He made a mental note to ask Nanoha if it was really as impressive as it looked to a relative novice like him. It'd be the sort of detail Lieutenant Ito would want when he handed over his report on this excursion.

Oh. Hell. The reporting part of things. That would suck. But it could wait until he was rested, on Claudia, with a less-muddled head and no random people popping by every few minutes to chat with him about fighting Xellos. And some other things. He shuddered for a moment at the memory of a surprisingly attractive Klingon woman who'd made some downright fiancee-like comments. The last thing he needed in his life was yet another fighting woman after him.

Nanoha Takamachi wasn't much of a drinker, but she could handle the amount of liquor she'd need to be polite. Though she knew that, even just sipping politely at the various toasts would leave her with a hangover in the morning. Fate, who was also only sipping at her drink, had muttered something similar.

But it wouldn't be a patch on the hangover Lina would likely be suffering. The sorceress was enjoying her hero status, and the many, many drinks people passed her. Lina had returned Raising Heart to her shortly after she had awoken. Raising Heart had given her a firsthand account of what had happened – and Nanoha found herself both vaguely amused at how flustered her Intelligent Device seemed by the situation, and wishing she knew that spell. It was impressively powerful, and it wove together several types of energy; much more complex than she'd been told a planet like this could put together.

Of course, most of her formal instruction had been from the TSAB, who seemed rather poor at estimating what less advanced worlds could and could not do. She was waiting for them to realize how much they'd underestimated her homeworld. She hoped to be around when they did. It would be entertaining.

Speaking of Lina, here she was now, extracting herself from a pack of celebrants. She'd spotted the other two mages, and was heading their way, pleasantly tipsy. "Hello again, Nanoha, Fate, Ragin' Heart."


Nanoha couldn't help herself, she giggled. Lina plopped down between her and Fate, which drew a momentary scowl from Fate.

"How goes the evening for the monster-slaying heroine?" asked the Blonde.

"It goes great," said Lina. "They like me when I kill t' bad guy. 'Specially if I do it without flattenenen half the outer city."

Did we just hear that right, said Fate mentally.

I think we did. We do know she has that kind of power at her disposal. Aloud, she asked, "Ah, have you done that often?" And I believe she's drunker than I first guessed.

Lina gave an absent wave of dismissal. "Only t'once. Nobbody ever less me ferget it. K'lled lotsa monsters. Saved t' world a couple times. Do they remember that? No. Just t' time I assidently broke parta the outer city." She looked slightly dour. "Anyway. Is yer artifact workin right, Nanoha?"

"She seems to be. Thank you for returning her."

Lina took a moment to gather herself. "You're welcome. I wish I had one of those; they're incredible." She eyed Bardiche, in its storage form on the back of Fate's hand. "It was an honor to work with... her, I guess." A thoughtful silence. "I guess she's a bit like Zelgaddis, that way. Only... more constructed."

"It's not how you come into the world that's important," said Fate, smiling. "But what you do while you're here."

"Profound," said Lina, then she belched. "Hoo boy... I'm too drunk for profound."

"That's okay," said Nanoha, giggling. "For now, I'm happy enough that we all made it." A pause. "Although..." From a pocket, she pulled a small Intelligent Device; in the form of a pink octagonal crystal on a silver chain. Lina's eyes bugged out, and she made a grab for it. Nanoha twitched her hand up, and she missed. "There are conditions."

Lina sat back, shook her head to clear it. "I'm listening."

"It comes with some responsibilities. The Bureau might call upon your assistance from time to time, and such assistance would probably take you offworld for a time. And it could be dangerous. We'd also expect you to make sure your use of magic is safe; that you don't kill anyone if you could avoid it."

Lina nodded slowly, then stood. "I'll get back to you on this. I need to find something to sober myself up, and think."

Face Loran raised a glass of Seyruunian brandy, made sure he had the attention of the gathered pilots. "Ladies and gentlemen, to our wives and girlfriends." A pause, expression very straight. "May they never meet." A hearty round of chuckles and 'Here, here's sounded in response, as Dia playfully punched his arm.

The pilots had sequestered somebody's planning room a short distance from the main dining hall, where the night's celebrations were in full swing. There was only so much indig classical music and political speachifying they could take before rebelling, and rather than risk a blowup, the assorted squadron commanders had extracted their people for a private party. The palace staff had taken it in stride; bringing snacks and more booze. Wedge had the distinct impression that theirs was not the first group to split from the general celebration.

The room was packed, with a wide mix of dress uniforms on those who'd been invited, and assorted flight suits from the pilots who'd simply invited themselves, landing fighters all over the palace courtyard to the amazement and delight of guests. Gratifyingly, they hadn't cliqued up – pilots from half a dozen carriers chatting and gesticulating as they bragged of past fights. The largest single knot of pilots was largely a mix of Rogues, Wraiths, and some of the boys off of Concordia, gathered around Luke Skywalker and his apparent twin, Christopher Blair.

After a moment to let those who needed a top-off get one, Wedge himself stood. "Absent companions."

There was another, more sober, round of agreement. 'Ayes' mixing with nods and a whispered, 'So say we all.'. A lot of them drained their snifters rather than sip. Wedge let the brandy trail fire down his throat for a long moment, then decided to mingle a bit, not wanting to brood.

He wasn't the only one. After a moment, he found himself next to John Sheppard, Lee Adama and Jeannette Devereaux. The four exchanged nods. After a moment, Adama said, "Colonel, were you able to deal with that problem of yours?"

The brunette scowled. "Non. Apparently, after ditching his wingman and getting his own ass shot down, Marshal suffered a nervous breakdown of some kind. The CMO's got him sedated."

Wedge frowned along with the others. "And if he's snapped, that'll cover him from whatever idiocy he did?"

Devereaux nodded glumly. "The best I can hope for is to just get him a psych discharge. It's kinder than he deserves, but at least it'll get him out of a cockpit. Merde, after ten years of his nonsense, you'd think something would have stuck."

"Was he saying anything?" Asked Lee.

"Ranting about something called 'the matrix' and some woman named Tovara. No idea what it means."

Expression showing sudden understanding, and the beginnings of a grin, Sheppard said, "He got picked up by Dan Leary, didn't he?"

Devereaux blinked. "Oui, he did. How did you know?"

Sheppard froze for a moment, then said, "We've, ah, run into him before. His people call their FTL 'the matrix' and it's pretty rough on the system. And Tovara's one of his staff, a real piece of work." A pause. "My condolences. On getting him back."

A bleak smile. "My cross to bear, I suppose."

Lina Inverse looked upon the majestic spread of food before her, and sighed dreamily. Another advantage to civilization is having someone else cook for you. And occasionally, having them do it for free. A similar sigh came from the far side of the table, and she and Gourry exchanged glares. Frowning, she looked to the other place settings. Amelia looked ready to contest things, as did Naga – still looking odd to Lina's eye in royal finery. Then knives and forks were drawn, and the battle for breakfast began. The sounds of ravenous hunger were punctuated with the clash of silverwear as the four of them sought to devour.

"Miss Inverse," interrupted a mousey looking guy in messengers robes. "Sorry to interrupt your breakfast, but, well, we've received two messages for you this morning."

Lina blinked, swallowed a mouthful of sausage, offhandedly deflected Gourry's fork as it sought to steal from her plate. "Two letters? For me?" Delivered to the palace? "Who are they from?"

"Neither envelope was marked, Miss Inverse. Both were delivered by spell." He looked a little nervous at that, but part of that might just be how very... militant... the assembled mages and warrior were being about their food. And the fact that he was interrupting her when she would really rather be eating.

"Well..." she gave a quick glare at the others. Now was not a time to retreat from the battlefield. "I'll read them here, I think."

"Of course, Miss Inverse. Here they are." From a sleeve he produced two envelopes. One was very plain, a parchment envelope the colour of weak tea. The other a stiffer, more elaborate stock stamped with a pattern of waves. With one hand, she opened the plain envelope, removed an equally plain piece of paper. She stiffened as she recognized the handwriting, but forced herself to relax. This was no time to display weakness; the hand without a letter in it was busily defending her chosen share of the breakfast spread.


Well done, little sister. I knew you could handle the situation.


She read it twice, thought it over as she attacked some ham. There were no threats or barbed words that she could see. Just a note of confidence. Well. Perhaps that was all that was going on with her sister. She smiled, opened the second, fancier envelope. The letter within was equally fancy. It was nice, but also a bit unnerving. She didn't recognize the handwriting, and so simply began to read.

To Lina Inverse, Dragon Spooker, Bandit Slayer, and Enemy of All Who Live;

I would like to apologize for my actions at our last meeting. In my defense, the situation was not one of my choosing, and had I been given the option, I would not have set myself against you so directly. I certainly understand your response to my boorish behavior, and I deserved it.

I am no longer in the employ of the Mistress who set me against you, having found my way into the good graces of a mutual friend of ours. With luck we shall work together again in the future!

Your old traveling companion,


Lina felt herself pale as she read the letter and realized its implications. This... was not good. The wondrous feast set before her suddenly held no appeal. Thought of the offer Nanoha had made her last night, and what it would entail. Suddenly, some of those restrictions seemed rather less dire.

Galactica was in place-of-pride within the Bradeson formation as they prepared for the next jump in their voyage home. Partly, that was to honor what they'd done. Mostly, it was sheer necessity. Umbilicals linked the Battlestar to three other ships and repair crews labored to keep them flying as they returned to their new home.

The TSAB had taken care of ferrying most of the others home, though for quite understandable reasons, when asked Hoss had told Haralowan to go frak himself. Politely. Despite the battle damage several of their ships had suffered, they'd managed. Both to keep the Bucket in one piece; at least for one last trip; and to get their fleet out as the mosaic of universes... closed. All that was left was counting the breakage. And William Adama was feeling mighty drained by that.

The Galactica was finished as a fighting ship. Her back was broken. Her sensors burned away. Fully two thirds of her guns destroyed. The jump drive was, as Galen put it with a frown, 'Marginal.' There was some debate, quietly and where people thought he wouldn't hear them, about weather it was even practical to try and save her, or if she should just be sent to the breakers.

The words hurt, but they didn't break his heart. Realizing that they were probably right; that the old girl was beyond saving... that did.

And even if it hadn't... they'd lost a lot of people. Techs, ratings, spacehands, half a dozen bridge crew. Felix's mangled leg had been taken off by flying debris, just above the knee. He was aboard Admiral Minsk now, with the other wounded, being tended to by their docs and fitted for an artificial leg. They'd lost pilots. Too many of them youngsters, blooded but not truly veterans. And a woman he'd loved like a daughter. Who'd almost been his daughter before... before.

Bill Adama felt broken, beyond his physical hurts and injuries. He didn't want to go on.

And why should he have to? The long, manic escape was done; they'd found a new home. Mail had arrived with the last jump; images of their new settlement on Masira – there was a debate raging on the name, it seemed, and Bill couldn't bring himself to give a frak – as well as letters to the crew and general news. His people were safe from the Cylons – so far beyond their reach it was almost funny. Peace and relative prosperity were the new watchword for the Colonials. Building on a new world wouldn't be easy, but there was a future in it.

No; the people of his fleet didn't need him. And he didn't need to continue to suffer this way.

He looked down at his desk. Half a bottle of Seyruunian brandy sat there; next to his service pistol. For a long, soulful moment he contemplated both. The brandy had numbed him, some. Made it hurt a little less. But he knew it wouldn't last. It never did. He had enough pains. Enough losses. Enough dead. Perhaps it's time I join them. He reached a shaky hand towards the pistol.

Warm, softly glowing fingers gripped his wrist, and a voice both beautiful and terrible said, "No, William. Your people still need you."

He looked up and felt himself grow pale. Kara. Clad in her flight suit; glowing with a soft golden light, Kara. "Impossible... you died..."

She smiled. "I am not Kara Thrace, William. I am the entity whose prison you destroyed. You freed me, and for that I thank you. I have taken Kara's form because no mortal could comprehend my true form. And because she died bravely, with you in her heart."

"You... I..." he swallowed, gathered his thoughts. "Thank you for telling me that. It helps. But who are you? What are you? And why are you here?"

A bright, enigmatic smile that had no place on Kara's lips, and yet looked natural there. "I have many names. Lord of Nightmares, Suzumiya, Rythar and Mythar, Azathoth... All of them, and none of them, are accurate. As to what... I am a goddess of creation and chaos. And I am here because you did me a great service, and I pay my debts. Your people need you, William Adama. Never forget that." She leaned close and kissed him gently on the forehead, and the world went white.

He woke up on the floor, with Saul shaking him. "Wake up, frak it."

"I'm awake, Saul," he said, stirring. He felt woozy, head swimming as he sat up. "What happened?"

"Damned if I know." The one eyed man stood. "I walked in, saw your Issue on the desk and you on the floor. Don't you scare me like that again, you bastard." He offered a hand up.

Bill took it. "Sorry. Must've had more to drink than I thought." Enough to be seeing things.

"You shouldn't do that," said Saul with a grin. "That's my job." A moment's pause. "How you feeling?"

He was about to say 'terrible' when he realized... that he didn't. Now that the initial wooziness had passed, he felt... well, he felt healthier than he had in years. Maybe it wasn't just some delusion. "I feel... I feel fine." He nodded. "Now. You wouldn't come down here without a reason, Saul. So what's going on?"

"Well, nothing major, but Hoss is on the wireless for you..."

The sun rose over marble buildings with tiled roofs, giving the large, exquisite meeting room a bright, almost hopeful look. Ambassador Teram Jefe, TSAB, stood at the window and gazed out over Seyruun. It had been chosen as the site of this important meeting due to its neutrality. The local sovereign had been happy to give his city's saviors a neutral venue in which to meet. The ambassador's aides were quietly comparing their files, making certain they had everything they'd need ready.

The TSAB had no love for war. Perhaps this one could be brought to a close before more lives were lost.

The door opened, and Teram turned. His Bradeson counterpart, Gima Sherco, entered, followed by his assistants and a handful of Seyruunians, those last bringing refreshments. "Ambassador Jefe, good morning. I hope we've not kept you waiting."

"Not at all, Ambassador Sherco. I was merely enjoying the view." He gestured at the table. "Shall we begin?"

Author's Notes

When I started Grand Tour, I hadn't intended to write a trilogy, and while it looks like I have for now, I've got plans to keep going eventually. I'd like to think I've learned a thing or two along the way, as well.

If nothing else, I've learned the importance of planning ahead and researching exhaustively. Grand Tour was very scattershot, with the 'real' plot not really taking form in my head until I got almost halfway through the story. Journey was better, with a general outline done before I really started writing, but not enough details were filled in. That left me with hanging plot points, and a few characters that really didn't do much of anything because I couldn't think of anything to do with them beyond one or two scenes. Sorry, HB, I like you, but I screwed the pooch there.

Odyssey was plotted almost entirely before I ever started writing it. Indeed, I had the basic skeleton of the story in mind before I'd even finished Journey. It went through several permutations as I fleshed out that skeleton, research and general fiddling with things to make them all fit as well as possible. Some scenes got written early, and had to be discarded when I realized that they didn't fit quite so well as I'd first thought they might.

For instance, early on I'd planned to bring in a few more SciFi 'verses in the early 'gathering information and allies' stage of the plot. In addition to Wing Commander, Nanoha, and Trek, Team Good was also going to run into Honor Harrington and that irrepressible bastard Miles Vorkosigan. I'd also planned for Daniel Leary to have a much larger roll in the plot. But that started to come apart on future planning. Working on his scenes, I quickly realized that I simply could not do Vorkosigan justice, and rather than write him poorly, I excised that from the plot. Harrington presented a different problem: she's got her orders and duties, and tearing off to deal with space squids isn't something she'd do. She's got Peeps/Sollies/Mesans to kill, and no time to waste. And Leary, much as I love the character and the setting, was simply too underpowered to contribute. I was stretching things a hell of a lot already, just bringing in the Galactica. The Princess Cecile, having no shields, no artificial gravity, no acceleration compensator, and shit weapons, would have been worse than useless in any normal fight. And they made off with half of a Morningstar class fighter, full of reverse-engineerable tech that most settings would consider standard issue, yet are utter gamebreakers for Leary and co. Up Cinnabar!

Picard's an explorer, so him being in on this was a no-brainer. Tolwyn is a careerist who wouldn't be willing, but I had the convenient lever of covert ops people to shoehorn him into the story. (And if someone asks me if I brought in Wing Commander entirely for the bit where Blair and Skywalker fly together, I'll deny it, but I'd be lying) Adama is a desperate man in a terrible situation, and he couldn't really afford to say no.

Bringing in all the heroes at the end was, I'll admit, self indulgent and something of an attempt to 'top' the endings of Journey and Grand Tour... and I'm not sure if I managed it, but it still seemed to work out okay. If nothing else, I got to hang some lampshades with the Stargate crew, and the scenario kinda needed them.

I did a lot of research for this one(though it still didn't save me from some mistakes – which the lads over at Spacebattles [Hi guys!] quickly and helpfully pointed out) and at any given time over the last few months I've had at least 20 different Wiki pages up across several different wikis. It was a lot of work, but overall I think it helped the story.

I was surprised by a few things over the course of the story. I'd expected the identity of She Who Is As Gold to remain a mystery for a bit – and it seems I either overestimated my ability to be subtle, or underestimated the deductive abilities of my audience, because it was guessed damn near instantly. Thus, some of the Slayers stuff got moved ahead in the timeline, since there was really no point in being coy about it.

And speaking of the timeline... I'll come clean. The 'time running at different speeds' thing was pure handwavium bullshit on my part. I did it because I knew that, in order to get the Trek plot to a point where I could just grab the characters I wanted and plunk them into the story, I'd need to run that forward until after the end of the Dominion War, thus a 2 year timeskip, to let things settle out after war's end. Of course, that leaves me with a bit of a problem: if everything rolls forward two years, Grand Admiral Thrawn's dead to an artful knife thrust, and the Empire is being run by howling idiots who've sidelined Pellaeon. Including Dalla, who is very high on my personal list of 'worst characters of the Star Wars EU.' So. Handwavium bullshit to keep the commander I wanted in charge. Initially, this was because I wanted to do a sequence pitting Thrawn against Harrington. That didn't happen, of course, which I kind of regret.

Trying to balance the ground fight and space battle in the finale was hard, and ultimately I think I failed. My thought had been to emphasize the space battle more, but I think that the ground fight's a little more engaging. Given the lower stakes, that's not ideal, but it could have been worse: in the earliest versions of the plot outline, the ground fight was going to be even bigger; with mages all over the multiverse noticing the Rift, and using it as a way to... dispose of assorted heroic thorns in their side. So Grey Seer Thanquol was going to send Gotrek and Felix to Seyruun; the surviving God Hand were going to get rid of Guts, and so on. But there were already too many characters running around, and it was set to get a little rediculous. So I dropped that idea, and settled for breaking the Slayers tradition of not having Amelia and Naga run into each other(while simultaneously using Naga as comic relief) and making a voice actress gag between Ran-Chan and Lina.

In the end, I think the problem with balancing the two fights in favor of the space battle came down to a quirk of my personal writing style: I like to do every scene from a given character's perspective, and that means getting into that character's head. That can be a little scary(some of the folks from nBSG in particular are just messed), not to mention tricky. It was part of the reason I didn't wind up using Miles – his headspace is just screwy – and it more or less limited anything I did with Leary to Leary himself: the other primary viewpoint character in that series is Adele Mundy, and much as I love the character, she's a borderline sociopath(Her assistant/bodyguard Tovara is an outright psychopath. Maniac was not ranting about her without reason). I gave myself enough nightmares trying to get into Balalaika's head while writing Journey, thank you very much.

For various reasons, I found it harder to get into the heads of a lot of the sci-fi characters, making it hard to spread the action around in that sequence. Given the smaller scale and fewer named characters, the ground fight was much easier to have one guy all over the place.

Anyway, that's my musings on this tale. Thanks for reading this far. Below are a few scenes that I wrote early on that ultimately got cut for one reason or another. Enjoy!


Initially, I planned on making extensive use of the fiancees and the Inner Senshi, as my first thoughts were along the lines of 'Use EVERYONE!' I'd wanted Ryoga to be 'out,' and I'd figured at first, why not get a little more work out of that to do some exposition and such. So I wrote the following scene, and I figured it was good. It involved Ranma talking about his love life and fiancees, which I was a little hesitant to do, as it's a sore subject for many Ranma fans, but it got cut not because I was feeling gunshy(if I was, it wouldn't be back for this part) but because I couldn't think of anything else significant for the fiancees to do after this point in the story. So I pared back their involvement significantly, and made Ryoga's curse being outed part of the backstory.

Some parts of it(primarily Ranma and Nanoha's two conversations) were initally going to be put back in during a sparring session/conversation between Ranma and Aston, but ultimately that got dropped as I couldn't find a place to put it that didn't just feel like filler.

Now. In a (likely futile) attempt to head off a flamefest re: Ranma's romantic feelings, I would like to make the following statement: If I were in Ranma Saotome's position, I wouldn't be going after any of the main three fiancees. Shampoo's crazy and more than slightly murderous; Ukyo's somewhat delusional, and Akane... Akane Tendo is a big bundle of issues and neurosis, probably including Rage Disorder and definitely including a lot of displacement and projection(My pet theory is that she reacts so strongly to Ranma because she's a deeply in denial bisexual; finds both his forms attractive, and is terribly conflicted by it. And since she wants to be a Good Girl like her big sister Kasumi, and Good Girls aren't gay or perverted, thus she can't be attracted to Ranma, thus he's a pervert making her feel this way).

But there's a very important distinction to be made: I am not Ranma Saotome. Throughout the manga, there are many scenes where it becomes somewhat clear that Ranma is well and truly attracted to Akane, and she to him. But both characters have their own psychological issues and pride, and they just can't get over themselves to deal with it. And I've seen enough relationships in the real world where I don't have a clue what he sees in her, or vice versa, that still very obviously work for the individuals involved. So I can accept that there's something there, that I just can't see. And I'm certainly in no position to critique anyone else's love life, what with being a pig-ugly 27 year old virgin who'se never been on a date in his life.

So. Anyway. Here it is. Those who are offended, feel free to flame away, but I'd hope you at least have cogent arguments for your fire.

Ranma was, rather incongruously, in the O-club when Nanoha tracked him down. She'd been genuinely surprised when she hadn't turned him up in the gym – the rest of the martial artists were down there, along with most of the Inner Senshi, putting on a hell of a show for the off-duty crew. But no, Ranma was sitting quietly at a corner table, head bobbing lightly to whatever was going through his headphones, as he worked at something on scratch paper, glancing from the paper to a thick textbook.

Clearly, the last two years had been... interesting... for the martial artist.

Though he seemed engrossed in what he was working on, he noticed her approach, flipped the headphones down. "Hey, Nanoha. What's up?"

"I was just trying to find you. I'll freely admit this isn't where I was expecting you."

"I checked with the bartender before I set up – she told me that I more or less qualified."

Nanoha took a seat opposite him. "I didn't mean the O-club, specifically... but, well, sitting anywhere just..." she glanced at the textbook, "doing maths, doesn't seem like you."

Ranma's smile looked more sardonic than his usual. "If I learned anything in the last two years, it's that there is way, way more a guy hasta learn than I thought growin' up." He shrugged. "I'm tryin' ta make up for lost time, much as anythin' else." Using his scratch paper as a bookmark, he closed the textbook and pushed it aside. "Anyway. What's up?"

"Well, Claudia's chief doctor is a specialist in curses. I was wondering if you wanted to get her to take a look at your own little Jusenkyo problem."

Ranma sat back. "Eh.. I ain't lookin' too hard for a cure right now, but thanks fer t' offer."

"Now I'm really confused. Not looking for a cure?"

Ranma looked away. "It's complicated, okay? Look do ya really wanna hear me rant about my problems?" He took a breath as if to continue, then his eyes got wide and unfocused. After a moment he turned back to Nanoha, and asked, "Wait, is someone goin' ta make the same offer to Ryoga?"

Akane had always had a soft spot for Ryoga, and while they'd grown apart some after he'd found Akari, she still considered the former Lost Boy a friend. He'd understood the trials and tribulations she went through, dealing with Ranma. He, too, had been a victim of Ranma, as well as his friend – two conditions that seemed to overlap heavily.

Right now, the Lost Boy was sparring with one of the TSAB Marines, who was giving him a good run for his money. She cheered her bandana'd friend, probably the only boys she'd ever known who had never betrayed her trust. Eventually, the Marine yielded – defeated as much by Ryoga's raw toughness than his skills, but close enough. As he walked towards the sidelines, where she sat with Shampoo and Ukyo. She was about to hand him one of the water bottles when one of the TSAB types, looking something like a nurse, spoke up.

"Mister Hibiki? You inquired earlier about a curse consultation?"

Ryoga's mouth opened to respond, then he froze, eyes flicking towards Akane. For her own part, Akane was confused. "I thought they cured your curse last time."

"They did!" he said, too quickly.

The nurse looked again to her clipboard. "According to this, your hereditary curse – involuntary translocation – was cured, but not your Jusenkyo transformation curse."

Akane froze; Ryoga looked stricken.

"He has a Jusenkyo curse?" she asked, tone very flat.

"Yes," said the nurse, looking at her clipboard and not seeing Ryoga shake his head, mouthing 'no, no, no.' to her. "According to this, it takes the form of a small, black pig."

Shampoo started giggling.

Trembling, Akane's hand tightened on the water bottle she held. "A small... black... pig?" She advanced on Ryoga, who fell back, hands raised as if to ward off a blow, stammering something incoherent. Popping the lid on the bottle, she squeezed. A spray of cold water splashed against the Lost Boy-

-And where he had stood was now a small, black pig. A very familiar small black pig, with a very familiar yellow and black bandana around its neck. P-chan. Ryoga.

Ki and fury welled up within her in equal amounts. She felt her battle aura flare around her as an elaborate and spiky mace formed in her hands.

Bweeeing in terror, Ryoga fled, and she charged, screaming a scream of rage and hurt and betrayal.

Ukyo had thought she had seen Akane angry before. Not simply with her beloved Ranma, but the nova-hot fury she'd shown a year ago, when that Tibetan warlord had kidnapped Kasumi. That fury, with which she had scythed through his gathered minions, was beggared by the one gripping her now as she attempted to catch and kill the fleeing Ryoga. Her battle aura was intense enough to hurl light objects away from her path as she charged – everything from drink bottles and rolled bandages to a decent-sized floor mat. Regular crew and Marines alike dove out of her path.

The ninja-trained chef was dearly glad that Akane's rage wasn't being directed at her. Even more, and this thought brought a smirk, her reaction(mace and immediate homicidal charge) had a thousand yen in the pool under Ukyo's name. She'd make a point to collect from Nabiki when they got back.

A few of the Marines were trying to contain things now, throwing spells to try and bind her. They were in a hurry; most of them missed. Those that did hit barely slowed her, bits of magical chain pinging off the floor as they flew apart and disintegrated. The fact that she was bursting out of those binds was kind of unnerving, but if Ukyo knew Akane's temper, she was in no danger of having it redirected at her.

The one person who was in danger of catching fire from Akane(other than Ryoga, at least) burst into the room, with Takamachi half a step behind him. The brown-haired mage threw a bind more potent than the others, one that stopped Akane cold, and her beloved, never slow, suddenly moved with the incredible speed he was capable of, crossing fifty feet of gymnasium and scooping up Ryoga by the bandana with a perfectly aimed grab in an eyeblink. He was shaking his head.

"'Kane, ya can't just kill him."

"Do you know what he was doing? What he's been lying to me about?" She was struggling against the binds Takamachi had placed on her, strength lent by fury stressing them.

"Yes." Ranma walked towards her, still carrying a struggling Ryoga.

Akane was silent for a long moment, looking from Ranma to the pig he held and back. "You knew?"


She exploded with renewed fury, and Takamachi quickly reenforced the binds holding her. "Why the hell didn't you stop him! Why didn't you tell me?"

"He made me swear not to tell you. I didn't know you'd made him a pet at the time." He looked away. "I did try ta stop him, an' you just got mad at me fer tormentin' P-chan."

"How dare you! How dare you blame me! WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?"

In the face of her fury he remained calm, and Ukyo was reminded of why she loved him so. "I swore not ta tell ya outright, an' ya got mad when I tried ta stop him, but I still tried ta drop hints. Why do ya think I kept callin' him P-chan, an' makin' all those pig jokes?" He glanced away for a moment. "I couldn't break my word outright without breakin' my honor, Akane."

Akane's eyes widened for a moment as she tried to process what Ranma had just pointed out, all the hints he'd dropped over the last few years. Then she snarled, "Your honor? You just let him take advantage of me for the sake of your pathetic, worthless honor?"

For an instant, Ranma's face was etched with a fury to match Akane's. Then he closed his eyes, visibly restraining himself, and exhaled slowly. He tossed Ryoga to a nearby Marine and said, "You might wanna lock him up for his own safety for a while." Turning he started towards the exit.

"Hey!" shouted Akane, voice still laden with venom. "Where do you think you're going, you honorless bastard?"

Other than one fist clenching, Ranma ignored her, stalking out the door.

Ukyo was conflicted. The three fiancees might have agreed to something of a cease-fire among themselves, but they hadn't given up their claims on Ranma. It did her heart good to watch Akane torpedo her chances with Ranma, but at the same time it hurt her to see him in such pain.

It took medical intervention to get Akane calmed down – and god only knew if she'd start trying to wreck things once she woke up. After that, Nanoha had to get an incident report filed and generally get the situation stabilized. Finally, Ranma seemed to have a knack for finding out-of-the-way corners. It took most of an hour for her to track him down.

When she finally did find Ranma, the martial artist was sitting in a vent, hunched in on himself and brooding. "Are you going to be okay?"

In a voice scratchy and pained, he said, "I'll be fine. Just gotta calm down some more."

Nanoha seated herself next to the vent. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No. Ain't manly ta try an' dump my problems on somebody."

"Perhaps it isn't, but I like to consider you a friend, and I do not enjoy seeing my friends in pain." She paused for a moment. "I won't judge you, Ranma, and I won't condemn. I think you'll find that talking about it will help."

There was a long silence, then the martial artist took a ragged breath. "Oh, what the hell. I know you know about the three fiancees thing, ya mentioned that way back when. That's part of th' problem. As long as I still got this curse, some o' the pressure is offa that – but Mom's told me outright that soon as it's gone, she expects a wedding an' grandkids on the way. I ain't entirely outa the woods on the whole 'man among men' thing, either."

"The situation is certainly complex. Is that why you said you weren't too interested in a cure right now?"

"Most of it. It's also... I got less expectations on me as a girl. I c'n enjoy myself doin' something that isn't martial arts, an' nobody gives me a hard time if I wanna have a buncha sweets or ice cream or whatever. I cook better as a girl, too, an' I got NO idea how that works." He paused, took an unsteady breath, and continued. "But yeah, mostly the fiancee thing. It feels like I'm surrounded by traps, Nanoha. If I marry one of them, that leaves two other oaths broken, an' my honor broken with 'em. I'm wrackin' my brains ta figure out some way out of the trap, but I just ain't havin' any luck. 'Kane shoutin' bout my honor bein' worthless don't help."

"Your honor is very important to you, isn't it?"

"Honor is everything," he said quickly. "If a martial artist don't got no honor – hell, if any man don't got honor, he's worthless."

"From where I sit, you seem to have a great deal of it."

"I hope so. Biggest difference between me an' my pop. He's dragged the family honor through the mud, way he's been."

"And you feel the need to redeem it?"

"Somebody's gotta. Ain't nobody else who can." There was a long silence. Nanoha waited patiently. If she was any judge of people, Ranma was working himself up to continue, and she could give him some time.

Finally he continued. "I'm tryin' ta figure out a way to fix things. Ta get this settled without dishonoring myself, or 'Kane, or Ukyo or Shampoo. 'Till I do, I'm buyin' time. Stallin' on a cure, movin' out o' the Tendo place... Buyin' time so's I can figure it out."

"Considering your goal, it doesn't seem like a bad plan, but are you sure you can find a way to fix this? It's awfully complicated."

"Ranma Saotome don't lose," he answered quickly, almost automatically. "I'll find a way." Almost too quiet to hear, he finished with, "I gotta."

"You hold yourself to a high standard, Ranma."

"Shouldn't I? Even without the oath to Mom, what's wrong with a guy tryin ta' be the best he can?"

"Nothing. As long as his definition of best isn't impossible to reach."

His response was a non-committal grunt.

She decided to try another tack. "What about the girls in question?"

"Well, Ukyo's literally my oldest friend. Met her way back in the day. She's easiest to talk to, an' I'd hate ta hurt her. She's kinda half-way between a best friend an' a sister, if that makes any sense. Shampoo... I respect her, an' especially what she can do. She's a great martial artist, an' she's got a drive like you wouldn't believe. I think she's a friend, these days, but there's just so much baggage with her."


"Not just her family. I could handle her family. But she'd drag me back to the Amazon village, an' I'd never get away. Couldn't deal with all that. An' not just fer me. Any kids would be stuck there, too. A boy wouldn't have any options, just drudge work. A daughter would get to be a warrior, but that's about it. I never had a choice about what I'd be. I like bein' a martial artist, but if I ever have kids, they're gonna get ta choose."

There was venom, old hurts, in that. Yes, he had changed in the last two years. "I can see where it would be intimidating." A pause. "What about Akane?"

She heard the flinch in his voice. "Akane's... complicated. I don't really wanna go there." There was some pleading in his tone. Nanoha just waited. She'd spent some time as a sounding board before, she could tell when the best way to get more information was to wait quietly. A few moments later, Ranma started talking again. "I... care about her. More than that, I guess. I'd die for her. I've killed for her. I... I can't deal with the thought of not havin' her in my life. Yeah, she's got a heckuvan ego, an' a temper, but so do I. I.. She..." He paused a moment, voice faltering. He made several false starts. Finally, quietly; "I.. I love her. I'm pretty sure she loves me back."

Ranma fell silent again, breathing raggedly. After a few moments, he seemed to calm himself. "So. Yeah, that's the situation. I just wish I knew how ta fix it."

"I haven't really had any problems like that," said Nanoha. "I suppose I'm quite fortunate that way. But for what it's worth, I think you're a good man, trying your best. And that counts for a lot."

"It does, don't it?" Ranma uncurled himself from his position in the vent, landed lightly on the deck. "Thanks fer listenin,' you were right. It did help."

"I'm glad. Feeling better?"

"Enough fer now." He frowned thoughtfully. "'Kane probably don't want to see me right now, so I think I'll just keep my head down fer a while. Back to the calc, I guess." He waved absently as he started off down the corridor.

Nanoha watched him go for a moment, and when he was around the next bend, she glanced towards a shadow aft of where she sat and said, "So, how much of that did you overhear?"

Ukyo Kuonji seemed to melt out of the shadow; the ninja-trained girl's face wary. "How did you know I was there?"

Nanoha just smiled slightly. "Old family trick."

Ukyo shrugged. "Fair enough. I caught most of that... I hadn't realized there was so much... method to Ranma's madness lately. He's a lot smarter than he seems." She smiled, expression somewhat dreamy.

"An impression I got shortly after meeting him. I wonder, what do you plan to do with what you heard? Now that you've heard his position."

The ninja-trained chef sighed. "I... I don't know. I guess I have to think about that still."

Nanoha decided a little emotional blackmail wouldn't be out of order. "He's in a lot of pain because of this situation."

Ukyo tried and failed to cover her wince. The look she favored Nanoha with could best be described as uncharitable, then she glanced away, looking a little embarrassed. "I know. I just... I have to think about this still."

Ukyo was still thinking half an hour later when she made her way back to the quarters she was sharing with Shampoo and Akane. The Chinese Amazon was in the medical ward, getting some kind of test to see if they could remove her own Jusenkyo curse. For what it was worth, the cook wished her rival luck in that. Akane was probably still in sickbay or back in the gym working over a practice dummy. She didn't particularly want to talk to either of them right now. Part of her still wanted to find Ranma and try to comfort him, though with slightly more interest in comfort than calculation. But her own feelings were in turmoil, and something told her she'd be best served to get them in order before catching up with Ranma.

She slipped into the guest quarters, absently slapping the light switch and turning towards the bunks. The sound of a quiet snif froze her in her tracks. Suddenly paying attention to her surroundings, she looked and saw Akane sitting on her bunk, knees hugged against her chest, looking as if she'd been crying.

For a long moment the two rivals simply looked at each other. Akane broke the silence in a voice strained and shakey. "You knew, didn't you?"

Ukyo looked away, seated herself on the bunk opposite. "Yes."

Another soft snif. "Who else?"

"The Amazons did." She hesitated a moment, feeling uneasy. "So did Nabiki."

Akane looked up, a burst of anger burning its way through her sorrow. "Nabiki? My older sister? And she didn't tell me?"

Ukyo blushed, feeling slightly guilty. "She started a betting pool."

Akane buried her face in her hands. "Oh, Kamis..."

"Are you gonna be okay?"

"I feel like such an idiot," said Akane, voice muffled by hands and sobs. "Three years! Three years of Ranma dropping hints and I never figured it out. Kamis, he must think I'm as dumb as the Kunos."

I love her, echoed Ranma's words in Ukyo's mind. I can't deal with the thought of not having her in my life. "I don't think he does."

"Why didn't anyone just... tell me?"

Ukyo blushed from embarrassment. After a moment's hesitation, she answered. "Well, at first, I didn't want to mention it because, well, I was hoping you would hook up with Ryoga, and get out of the competition for Ranma. I can't really speak for the others."

"And after Ryoga and Akari got together?"

Ukyo looked away. "It... didn't seem all that important, and it was easier to just... not mention anything." A breath, ragged. "I should have told you. I'm sorry."

For a long moment the two girls sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. After a long moment, Akane said, "I understand why you didn't, I guess. Still friends?"

Ukyo smiled, felt a knot of tension release. "Still friends."

As I mentioned in the Author's Notes, I'd initially planned to have Harrington involved, and throw her up against Thrawn. This scene was the start of that sequence, and would more or less kick off the first big space battle, that ended with the Rift forming. I had intended for there to be more bits, culminating in Thrawn deducing what Honorverse ships use as drives just from his sensors(for those not familiar; artificial gravity waves) and use those waves as a sort of Interdictor field to hyperjump Chimaera from its position in high orbit to point blank range, where a Star Destroyer would hold the advantage. I never did get that far, though, before realizing that Honor wouldn't come to this party.

Honor resisted the urge to sigh. From the limited information she had about the various parties involved in this mess, she'd more or less expected that a battle would take place, but she'd hoped to be proven wrong. Still, she'd made good use of the time. HMS Imperator had been accelerating vaguely above the Imperial fleet at a lazy 350g as the three fleets had tried to talk to one another, and was roughly twenty-four light-seconds from the Star Destroyer formation. Well inside the range of the multi-drive missiles loaded into their pods.

And they'd been quietly rolling pods for the last two minutes; when it had become clear that a fight was all but inevitable. Seventy-two of the Mark 17 missile pods were on tow now, trailing behind the SD(P) and waiting to be unleashed. Honor scanned the tactical display, trying to pick her best target. None of the Star Destroyers were utilizing much EWAR, nor did they appear to be making any radical maneuvers. Part of her was tempted to make them pay for that arrogance; to spread her fire among the lot of them. But they didn't really know how tough these Star Destroyers were. Nor did they know which of the ships was the Imperial flag – neither their own sensors nor those of their Ghost Rider drones had been able to pin down the ship Pellaeon had transmitted from.

She could feel Rafael's questioning gaze upon her. Honor gave the board one last glance over, and then turned towards her flag captain. "Captain Cardones, go to full acceleration, target all pods on the nearest Star Destroyer and open fire."

By happenstance, the victim of the opening Manticoran barrage was the Star Destroyer Peremptory. For all her sensors had seen Imperator earlier, they had taken little note of the SD(P). After all, she was the best part of nine million kilometers from the battle – far beyond the Star Destroyer's own effective range, and vastly farther than any missile of which they'd ever heard. Absent orders from the Grand Admiral, Premptory's Captain was inclined to ignore it until they had disposed of enemies in range to actually threaten them. There were certainly plenty of those to go around, with the Imperials pinned between the two opposing fleets.

So when six hundred heavy missiles began screaming towards the Star Destroyer, accelerating at over 900 kilometers per second squared, he could be forgiven for taking a few moments to realize what was happening.

Slightly panicked orders started the mighty ship's dorsal batteries firing at the could of missiles, picking off a few of the missiles as they raced towards them, but the missiles – impossibly – appeared to be approaching in some kind of evasive pattern. Even worse, they started projecting some kind of jamming signal, making targeting the things next to impossible.

For their own parts, the multi-drive missiles and their guidance AIs would have sneered in contempt of their targets were they capable of such. Designed to pierce thick fusillades of countermissiles and precisely directed energy beams, the panicked, disorganized counterfire of the Star Destroyer and her desultory jamming was practically nothing. A few were still hit, of course – the Demon Murphy played no favorites – but over five hundred and seventy of the missiles survived to reach detonation range, each warhead a cluster of six bomb-pumped laser cannons that fired at 25,000 kilometers. The Star Destroyer – being a large, broad target that was not attempting evasive maneuvers – caught over eighty percent of the barrage; her shields battered down and armor torn asunder. Over half of her dorsal armament was rendered into slag, as were her shield emitters. Eight beams tore into the bridge, shattering the transparisteel viewport and the bulkheads around it and simply... erasing... the port half of the crew pit.

Sorely wounded and without her commander, the ship put up even less resistance to the second volley; three hundred missiles launched a minute after the first. One of the lesser Imperial ships sprayed fire into the missile's path, but the range and jamming defeated her efforts. Though the Star Destroyer was not destroyed outright, it was little more than an air-bleeding hulk, engines dead and shedding escape pods.

The third volley was not launched against Premptory. There was no need for it.